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Exclusive: Another Air India staff strike brewing?

Summary: Cracking the whip on cabin crew members, Air India management has sacked twelve airhostesses in the last couple of days in Delhi itself but at the same time turns blind eye to rampant corruption in the organisation that is responsible for the present state.

There is trouble yet again for the national carrier. And it is brewing within the Air India family. All India Cabin Crew Association has told Headlines Today that they do not rule out striking work in the days to come. AICCA member on condition of anonymity said, "There have been twelve terminations in the last couple of days in Delhi itself. Management says refusal to fly is the reason for the action. But has anyone even bothered to ask on what grounds have the crew refused to fly. The management is painting a false picture. There is rampant corruption in the organisation that is responsible for the present state". The AICCA further states that they are expecting a reply from the MD and if they do not receive a reply then they would be forced to serve strike notice to the management.

Let's just understand what this means for the passengers. If indeed the crew association goes on strike then the passengers travelling by Air India in the international sectors will be worst hit. Air India has some three thousand strong crew force for the international sector that flies to places like London, New York, Chicago, Frankfurt, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Melbourne among others. Strike and that too at the onset on summer would spell doom for the carrier and harass the passengers to the core. AICCA also says that they enjoy the support of domestic crew members and if need and situation be they would stand by them in protest.

Now lets get you clear picture of what's happening. Delays, strikes and union unrest have been a part and parcel of the Air India story for long. The tussle specifically between the Air India management and the Cabin Crew Association has also been going for years now. It is just off late that the management realising that its image was taking a thorough beating owing to the falling OTP ( On Time Performance) started getting tough on the employees. That meant suspending crew that refused to fly or were late for work or showed sector preference. And then terminations followed and that made the scenario ugly. The AICCA charged the management of favouritism and corruption in the organisation.

Headlines Today had earlier reported on how the management had allegedly failed to live up to the rule book of the DGCA when it came to crew compliment in the international sectors along with rest hours and other related issues of the Long Range flights. So how has the situation got out of hand for the carrier. Sources tell Headlines Today that the management had served a circular to AICCA asking it to comply by the rules set by the management or face action. In retaliation the association shot back a hard hitting letter. Here are some of the content of the letter:

At the very outset we would like to state that the contents of the referred Circular are illegal and appear to be issued with mischievous intent to intimidate/ threaten so openly, our members both in the Wide and the Narrow body of Air India. It is rather surprising that Ms Harpreet De Singh is not aware that the workman category of the Air India (A) i.e. wide body are governed by Certified Standing Orders, which have been challenged at this point of time and hence the workmen here are governed by the Employees Model Standing Orders Act, 1946. If the reference is to the Indian Airlines Flying Crew Service regulations, of the Narrow Body. Sir, she should be aware that the same cannot be applied to the workmen of Air India Wide Body. Notwithstanding the same, consequent to the Order passed in Writ petition 1606 of 2013 dated 27th January, 2014 passed by the Division Bench of the Hon'ble High Court, Bombay even the Indian Airlines Flying Crew Service regulations cease to survive and they cannot be quoted nor can any disciplinary proceedings be initiated under both the provisions, which could not have slipped the mind of Ms. Harpreet De Singh or any other officer advising her. Sir, pardon us for saying this but it is rather pathetic that such an officer with nil or limited knowledge of basic IR rules, is allowed to head the Department and she wants to act against the law abiding, bilateral following cabin crew members of both the narrow body or the wide body. In light of all the above till such time that the company does not serve Notice of Change to the petitioner union/s in accordance with Section 9A read with the Fourth Schedule of the I.D. Act 1947, and also issue notification for the issuing of fresh Certified Standing Orders the above circular is illegal and is against the spirit and orders passed in the above Writ Petition. Sir, In light of the same we sincerely request you to stop forthwith all disciplinary proceeding initiated under the Indian Airlines Flying Crew Service regulations which according to the above order have ceased to exist from January 1994 and the Certified Standing Orders till such time new regulations based on the Employees Model Standing Order Act are notified and approved by the certifying authority after following the due process of law. Notwithstanding the above, any of the aggrieved parties to this Writ Petition and the consequent order passed has the option of challenging the same before the Apex Court and till such time the essence of the bilaterally agreed terms cannot be unilaterally overridden and have to be incorporated. Further any violation of the bilaterally agreed terms by Ms Harpreet De Singh or any other officer directly would draw the consequences of Section 29 of the I.D Act, 1947 which you may kindly be noted. We thus hope that the contents of the said circular which is in violation of the bilateral agreements and in violation of the Orders dated 27th January, 2014, does not have your consent and concurrence. If it does not have your consent and concurrence, we request you to issue specific instructions as the CMD of Air India and the superior officer of Ms Harpreet De Singh to withdraw, forthwith, the above referred illegal circular and not to insist upon the cabin crew to follow the said circular. In case the said circular is not withdrawn we will be constrained to file a Contempt Petition as well as initiate proceedings against all the senior Officials / Directors of Air India for breach of the Bilateral Settlements and for violation of the Order dated 27th January, 2014 passed by the Division Bench of the Hon'ble High Court which you may please note. We trust wiser counsel will prevail and you will not put us in an embarrassing and unpleasant position to take action against our own officials, which we would then be constrained to. In the meantime please note that we would also be advising /directing our members to strictly adhere to the clauses of all the Bilateral Settlements / Awards / Settlements, the Judgments of the Hon'ble Supreme Court.

An Air India management source on condition anonymity said that the airline was complying by all the rules and that they were interested in the OTP of the airline which was going down for the last couple of months. Aviation expert Harshawardhan says " The issue of the crew members needs to sorted by the management but the crew cannot be allowed to harass the passengers. There are union issues to it as well and there has to be a way out of this to avoid further image damage to the national carrier."

While in all this the passengers look askance there is there is yet another important issue that has been brought up by the employees. They say that the airline is now creating false scarcity of crew members and hiring crew on contract basis so that they could be paid cheap. The section of employees state that this is against the DGCA ruling and that this was clearly playing with the safety aspects as the contract crew paid on an hourly basis and much less than the regular ones have little training of tackling emergency situations.

So as things stand the there could be bad days in the near future. Summer is just around and strike is the last thing that the Indian Aviation needs at this hour.

pankaj.upadhyay@jtak.com

Twitter: @pankajjtak

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Publication:Headlines Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 10, 2014
Words:1460
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